Vulvodynia treatment options
There isn’t one treatment option for vulvodynia, and addressing any underlying causes may help, so experiment and find what works best for you.
Finding emotional support
“Having a condition like vulvodynia can be hard to deal with emotionally. Don’t let feelings of embarrassment or shame stop you from getting the help you deserve. Getting support from loved ones or a group of women who also experience vulvodynia can help build up your confidence,” says Dr Adiele Hoffman.
Vulvodynia can create self-confidence issues and make you think twice about what clothes you wear and what activities you do. It can also affect the day to day routines other people take for granted like washing in the shower and your relationship with your partner, as it can make sex painful, and reduce your sex drive. All of this can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
If you've been affected by sexual trauma, including in childhood, and think this could be linked to your vulvodynia, know you're not alone. This may well be affecting you in other ways too – chronic tummy or pelvic pain, anxiety, depression and PTSD are all associated with sexual trauma. There are support groups, charity organisations and specialist counsellors that have a wealth of experience to help you.It's never too late to reach out and get support.
As well as asking your doctor or sexual health clinic for support, you might find it helpful to talk to other people with vulvodynia, to hear how they cope. The Vulval Pain Society has support groups across the UK and the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) offers support in the US.
Pharmacy treatments for vulvodynia include:
- gels such as Lidocaine numb the area, to ease discomfort. Use it during the day or, if you’re in a lot of pain, apply it overnight. It’s a good option if you experience pain during sex. You can apply it 20 minutes before or overnight. One small study did show some benefit – it found that 76% of women who applied lidocaine overnight (to the area between the vagina and urethra called the vestibule) for around 7 weeks or longer were able to take part in sex (compared to 36% before the treatment) and reported that they were in a lot less pain during sex. Remember, lidocaine must be wiped off completely before using a condom, as it can affect how well the condom works
- soap substitutes are emollients used for dry skin conditions like eczema. They can be used in place of soap as they make your skin feel less dry and irritated than normal soaps. Most can be used as a moisturiser for any dryness as well but certain types, like aqueous cream, should be washed off as it can irritate your skin
At the moment doctors don’t know enough about complementary treatments to advise them as a treatment for vulvodynia. A few reports have suggested acupuncture may help some people with vulvodynia, and this is an area researchers are looking into, but it’s not currently recommended.
If you have vulvodynia, it’s important to reduce stress, as increased stress can make your pain worse. Relaxation techniques can help you destress and, along with pelvic floor exercises, (see above) are great for relaxing your pelvic floor muscles, which can improve vulvodynia.
Relaxation techniques you could try include:
- breathing exercises
- gentle stretching
- listening to music